There is nothing more frustrating than seeing peppers falling off your plants, especially after all the work you put in to care for them. There are many possible causes for peppers falling off the plant, and some of them can be prevented to save your crop.
So, why are your peppers falling off the plant? Peppers may fall off the plant due to extreme temperatures (daytime temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit or below 55 degrees Fahrenheit, or nighttime temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit). Improper pollination can also cause peppers or flowers to fall off the plant.
Many other factors can stress your pepper plants and cause them to drop their fruit, including:
- Incorrect levels of nutrients or pH in your soil
- Too much or too little water
- Lack of sunlight
Luckily, there are ways to combat some of these problems so that you have a fighting chance to save your pepper harvest. Let’s start off with extreme temperatures and what you can do about them.
There is an ideal temperature range for development of pepper plants. Outside of this range, their growth will slow down, due to an inability to properly absorb nutrients or regulate water levels. Pepper plants may even drop their fruit if the stress becomes too great.
Temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit can cause pepper plants to drop their fruit. If the soil is too cold, pepper plants may also have difficulty absorbing nutrients from the soil, which can lead to slow growth.
To keep your pepper plants warm, you can use row covers. A row cover is a piece of plastic or fabric that is used to cover an entire row of plants. A row cover will protect plants from cold, wind, and pests. For more information, check out my article on how to protect plants from cold and frost.
The fabric or plastic you use should allow sunlight to get through to the plants. The row cover should also be breathable – this means you will need small holes in a plastic row cover.
If you use cages or stakes to support your pepper plants, you can use them as a support for your row covers. You can purchase Agribon row covers online at places like Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
If temperatures are above 95 degrees Fahrenheit during the day or 75 degrees Fahrenheit at night, your pepper plants may start to drop their fruit.
Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to keep your plants cool during a heat wave. You can try spraying them with cold water during the day, but it is really a waiting game if there is a severe heat wave.
Improper Pollination of Pepper Plants
Improper pollination can also cause peppers or flowers to fall off the plant. There are a few ways this can occur, and there is also a method you can use to take control of the situation.
How Improper Pollination Can Occur
Pepper plants are self-pollinating. This means that a pepper flower contains both male and female parts. The male part releases pollen onto the female part, and fruit will form.
However, self-pollination does not mean automatic pollination. Pepper plants still need bees or other pollinators to trigger the release of pollen by the male part of the flower.
Bee populations have been declining in many areas recently. This is mainly due to increased use of chemical pesticides in farming and gardening.
Without enough bees, your pepper plants will not receive proper pollination. To attract more bees, stop using chemical pesticides, and ask your neighbors to do the same. Also, plant plenty of flowers to attract bees to your yard.
Even with plenty of bees in your yard, pollination can fail in cases of extreme humidity. If the humidity is too high (sticky air), then the pollen will be stuck to the male part of the flower. If the humidity is too low (dry air), then the pollen will not stick to the female part of the flower.
There is not much you can do about humidity levels outdoors. However, you can certainly hand pollinate your plants if there are not enough bees.
How to Hand Pollinate Pepper Plants
The easiest way to hand pollinate pepper plants is by using an electric toothbrush. Simply turn it on, and touch the vibrating bristles to each flower on the plant.
The electric toothbrush will simulate the vibration of a bee’s wings, and cause the male part of the flower to release pollen.
The more often you use this method, the more likely you will pollinate your plants successfully. If you are worried about humidity levels, check the weather forecast. Then, go out and hand pollinate at a time of day when the humidity level is moderate (for example, right before a rainstorm is probably too humid).
If temperature, humidity, and pollination are not the causes of your problems, then it is time to consider your soil. If the pH or nutrient levels are too high or too low, then it can stress your plants, depriving them of necessary nutrients for growth.
The ideal soil pH for pepper plants is 6.0 to 7.0 (slightly acidic). If your soil pH is too far outside of this range, then your plant may have trouble absorbing nutrients from the soil. This is true even if the soil contains plenty of nutrients!
For more information, check out this chart from Research Gate on nutrient availability depending on soil pH.
To tell for sure, you should do a soil test to determine the pH in your garden. One way to do this is to buy a test kit or soil analyzer online or at a garden center. Another way is to send a soil sample to your local agricultural extension.
A benefit of sending away a sample is that your soil is analyzed in a lab. You will get more accurate results, along with information about nutrient levels in your soil. If you send a description of what you are growing, you will also receive detailed recommendations about how to treat your soil for optimal growth.
For more information, check out my article on soil testing.
If your soil is too alkaline (high pH), you can make it more acidic (lower pH) by adding elemental sulfur to the soil. For more information, check out my article on lowering soil pH.
If your soil is too acidic (low pH), you can make it more alkaline (raise pH) by adding lime to the soil. For more information, check out my article on raising soil pH.
Even if pH levels in your soil are with acceptable limits, you can still face the problem of nutrient imbalances.
A lack of nutrients in your soil can cause slow growth, yellow leaves, dropping fruit, and other problems. For pepper plants in particular, a lack of calcium can cause blossom end rot.
Excessive amounts of a nutrient in your soil can also cause problems. For instance, nitrogen is necessary for a plant to grow, and is known as the greening nutrient. However, too much nitrogen will cause a plant to develop leaves and shoots at the expense of flowers and fruit.
Using a balanced fertilizer, which contains phosphorus and potassium in addition to nitrogen, is one way to avoid this problem. Another way is to fertilize with compost and manure that are sufficiently decomposed. For more information, check out my article on over fertilizing and my article on low-nitrogen fertilizers.
As another example, too much magnesium in the soil can prevent a plant from absorbing calcium. The reason is that these two elements “compete” with one another for uptake by a plant’s roots. Excessive magnesium in your soil can be cause by adding too much Epsom salt.
Again, a soil test is the best way to determine if nutrient levels in your soil are too high or too low.
After pH and nutrient levels, the amount of water is the next thing to check for your pepper plants. Both too much and too little water can stress your plant, causing it to drop its fruit prematurely.
If you add too much water, the ground will stay wet constantly. This will lead to root rot, and eventual death of the roots. In this case, the plant will be unable to absorb enough water, and it will exhibit signs of a lack of water.
To prevent over watering, always be sure to feel the soil down to a depth of a few inches. If it feels dry, go ahead and water. Otherwise, wait until the soil is dried out. For more information, check out my article on over watering your plants.
It is best to give a long watering in the morning, when the sun is low and temperatures are cooler. This gives the water a chance to soak into the soil before it evaporates.
If you have a problem with dry soil, you may need to add organic material (compost or manure) to improve water retention. You can also try mulching over the soil to retain water.
For more information, check out my article on treating dry soil.
Lack of Sunlight
Pepper plants need full sunlight, meaning 6 to 8 hours of exposure to the sun each day. If your plants are shaded by a tree or by taller neighboring crops, then they might not be getting enough light.
For this year, you can try to trim away tree branches to let more light through to your peppers. For next year, choose a different location that gets more sun during the day.
You may face any number of pests in your garden. Most of them will be easy to see if you watch your plants for long enough. If pests do enough damage, they can stress plants and cause peppers to drop off.
One common pest is the aphid, a small insect that comes in many colors, including green, black, and white. They live on the underside of leaves, and suck the juice out of leaves and stems.
There are many ways to treat an aphid infestation, including spraying them with mixtures such as water, soap, and alcohol. For more information, check out my article on how to get rid of aphids.
There are many bacterial, viral, and fungal diseases to watch out for in your garden. Some of them might cause your pepper plants to drop their fruit due to stress.
Your best bet is to prevent disease by choosing resistant pepper varieties. If your pepper plants already have a disease, remove the infected plants and dispose of them.
Do not put diseased plants in your compost pile. Otherwise, the same problem may return to haunt you next year, on a much larger scale.
Hopefully, this article gave you some idea of what might be causing your pepper plant to drop its fruit. Go down the list and try to eliminate each cause in turn.
I hope you found this article helpful. If you have any questions or advice of your own about pepper plants dropping their fruit, please leave a comment below.